In 1991, Maureen Drew received a phone call that would change her life.
It was roughly 8 p.m. at night when the phone rang. The voice on the other end told Drew that the interior design school, Imperial College, she had been working at for the past few years went bankrupt and was closing.
The next morning, Drew went to the school to collect her things, only to ask herself — what would happen to the dozens of students who were roughly-midway through the program?
She gathered as many students as she could, took them for coffee and told them the situation. That’s when Drew decided to open her own interior design school.
“It was sort of a rescue operation for students and I just started it,” said Drew, who is an interior designer. “I loved to see the students work. When they would come in they knew so little and within a few months, they’d be drafting and doing plans. It’s like you sprinkle star dust on them and all of a sudden they could do all this stuff.”
Within a month, she had applied for a business loan, found a new location (a former machine shop on Johnson Street close to the current Lululemon), and recruited roughly two dozen students from the previous school to enrol in the new school, which she called the Pacific Design Academy, focusing on interior design and building technology.
Since then, the academy has flourished as the only independent design college on Vancouver Island. It now offers courses in interior, landscape, fashion and graphic design, motion picture and photography production, as well as app and web development to students annually.
Next week, the academy is celebrating 25 years with an open house at the school on Wharf Street.
Over the years, more than 2,000 students have graduated from the academy. Roughly 95 per cent of graduates find employment, most of which can be attributed to the academy’s hands-on-philosophy, Drew noted.
“Our success is really measured in the success of our students. What we’ve always tried to do is train them for the working world. We don’t leave out hand drafting because you learn your skills with your hands,” said Drew, who stepped away from the academy after she retired roughly a decade ago, but passed it on to her son, Oliver, who is now at the helm.
“If you don’t do the hands-on stuff and you do all the tech stuff, there’s a component part that’s missing from your brain. You really need the hands-on stuff because you can’t just do it all on the computer.”
The open house, which also features graduating students’ work, takes place on Tuesday, June 28 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at 1252 Wharf St. For more information visit pacificdesignacademy.com.